International Religious Freedom Report 2003
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects the right in practice.

There was no change in the status of respect for religious freedom during the period covered by this report, and government policy continued to contribute to the generally free practice of religion.

The generally amicable relationship among religions in society contributed to religious freedom.

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

Section I. Religious Demography

The country has a total land area of 3,281,865 square miles, and its population is approximately 170 million (based on 2000 census results).

Nearly all major religions and religious organizations are present in the country. Many citizens worship in more than one church or participate in the rituals of more than one religion. Information obtained from the 2000 census indicated that approximately 74 percent of the population identify themselves as Roman Catholic, although only a small percentage of that number regularly attend Mass. Approximately 15 percent of the population identify themselves as Protestants, an estimated 85 percent of which are Pentecostal/evangelical. Evangelical churches have grown rapidly and have challenged the traditional dominance of the Catholic Church. Denominations include the Assembly of God and the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. Lutherans and Baptists make up the bulk of the remaining Protestants and are centered in the southern part of the country, where the majority of German and northern European immigrants concentrated during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Approximately 427,000 respondents to the census stated that they were members of what the census described as "oriental religions," including Buddhism, Thevarada Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism, Soka Ga kai, other schools of Buddhism, Messianism, Seicho No-le, Perfect Liberty, Hare Krishna, Oshoo Disciples, Tenrykyo, Mahicari, the Baha'i Faith, Shintoism, and Taoism. Approximately 2.1 million respondents to the 2000 census checked "other," which includes Islam, Hinduism, spiritualism, esoteric traditions, and indigenous traditions. Approximately 7 percent of the population indicated that they did not practice any religion. Approximately 12 million participants did not respond.

Followers of African and syncretistic religions such as Candomble, Xango, Macumba, and Umbanda constitute approximately 4 percent of the population. Candomble is the predominant traditional African religion practiced among Afro-Brazilians. It centers on the worship of African deities brought to the country as a result of the slave trade. Syncretistic forms of African religions that developed in the country include Xango and Macumba, which to varying degrees combine and identify indigenous animist beliefs and Catholic saints with African deities. The capital of Bahia State, Salvador, where most African slaves arrived in the country, is considered the center of Candomble and other traditional African religions. As a result of internal migration during the 20th century, Afro-Brazilian and syncretistic religions have spread throughout the country. Followers of spiritism, mainly Kardecists--followers of the doctrine transcribed by Frenchman Allan Kardec in the 19th century--constitute roughly 1 percent of the population.

There are approximately 500,000 Muslims. Sunni and Shi'a Islam are practiced predominantly by immigrants from Arab countries such as Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt who have arrived in the country during the past 25 years. There are approximately 55 mosques and Muslim religious centers. Shintoism is maintained to a limited degree among the Japanese-Brazilian community. Approximately 100,000 citizens identify themselves as Jewish. There are approximately 45,000 Jews in Rio de Janeiro and approximately 29,000 in Sao Paulo. Many other cities have smaller Jewish communities.

Foreign missionary groups, including the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and several evangelical organizations, operate freely throughout the country.

Section II. Status of Religious Freedom

Legal/Policy Framework

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government generally respects this right in practice. The Government at all levels strives to protect this right in full, and does not tolerate its abuse, either by governmental or private actors.

There are no registration requirements for religions or religious groups. There is no favored or state religion. All faiths are free to establish places of worship, train clergy, and proselytize, although the Government controls entry into indigenous lands. There is a general provision for access to religious services and counsel in all civil and military establishments. The law prohibits discrimination based on religion.

The Government restricts the access of missionary groups to indigenous people and requires groups to seek permission from the National Indian Foundation to enter official indigenous areas.

Restrictions on Religious Freedom

Government policy and practice contributed to the generally free practice of religion. However, in April, legal representatives of Umbanda and Candomble spiritist groups pressed a lawsuit against two Christian evangelicals for violating the "hate crime" law by distributing evangelistic tracts that allegedly disparaged Iemanja, an African deity, and for proselytizing spiritists at their annual festival in Praia Grande. At a hearing on April 16, the judge found the accused guilty of charges and fined them $300 (1,000 reais) and warned them that if they did not stop proselytizing spiritists at the festival, they could face stiffer consequences in the future. The defendants filed a petition to have the decision annulled, claiming precedent-setting implications for religious freedom should Christians be barred from sharing their faith with interested bystanders in a public place. The case was still pending appeal at the end of the period covered by this report.

There were no reports of religious prisoners or detainees.

Forced Religious Conversion

There were no reports of forced religious conversion, including of minor U. S. citizens who had been abducted or illegally removed from the United States, or of the refusal to allow such citizens to be returned to the United States.

Section III. Societal Attitudes

There are amicable relations among the various religious communities in the country, although a natural rivalry exists among various religious groups vying for greater numbers of adherents. The influence of evangelical churches in the country is growing. There is no national ecumenical movement. The National Commission for Religious Dialogue brings together Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders.

Anti-Semitism is rare; however, there are signs of increasing tension between Jews and Muslims. Leaders in the Jewish community expressed concern over the continued appearance of anti-Semitic material on Internet web sites compiled by neo-Nazi and "skinhead" groups. There have been no reports of violent incidents directed at Jews.

In February, a bishop of Vetero Catholic Church, the dissident branch of the Roman Catholic Church, was shot five times in the chest and killed in the church's headquarters in Sao Paulo. The gunman reportedly visited the church to ask the bishop to preside over a wedding, then shot him and fled the scene. The Vetero Catholic Church is part of a movement begun in the 19th century by clergy and other faithful who refused to accept the infallibility of the pope. The case was still under investigation at the end of the period covered by this report.

Section IV. U.S. Government Policy

The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom issues with the Government in the context of its overall dialog and policy of promoting human rights.

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